Monday, June 8, 2020


MAY 26TH, 1981 - AUGUST 8TH, 1981
AUGUST 9TH, 1981 - OCTOBER 4TH, 1981
By Stan Lee & Larry Lieber

Stan Lee and Larry Lieber continue the "primetime TV" approach to Spider-Man that I love so much in both of this week's storylines. First, at a college dance, Mary Jane is harassed by a new student named Vince Rigby. Peter stands up for her, but a chandelier falls, nearly killing him and breaking his arm. It turns out that Rigby has telekinetic powers, and uses them for his own selfish purposes. But when he shows off for MJ, she tells Peter about Rigby's ability, which prompts Peter to inform Robbie and Jonah, which leads to Rigby going public and accepting a bounty from Jameson: if Rigby can best Spider-Man in battle, JJJ will pay him ten grand.

Fortunately, Peter's quick-healing abilities have his arm back to normal around this point, and he goes out to meet Rigby's challenge. Everything comes to a head at -- wait for it -- a roller rink, where MJ is on a date with Rigby, and where Jameson happens to be showing the niece of his biggest advertiser a good time, when Spider-Man shows up. Rigby goes berserk, ranting about how he will kill Spider-Man, but the web-slinger tricks him into overtaxing his power, so that when he finally attempts to move something relatively small (which Spidey secretly webbed to the floor), he's unable to. After this, Rigby's power shuts down, an outcome Spider-Man compares with blowing a fuse.

I'd say this arc is a step up from both of last week's, in part because it focuses more on the soap opera stuff, with Rigby horning in Mary Jane, Peter's jealousy thereof, and the final showdown at the roller rink. For whatever reason, the strip is always at its strongest with these sorts of "low stakes" stories. It's the bigger plots with major super-powered villains that often tend to suffer from oversimple ideas, while stuff like this feels more real and natural for this iteration of Spider-Man. Again, I think it just goes back to that whole "primetime TV" feel being a good fit for the character, at least in this medium.

Adding to the soap opera feel is a moment at the end of the story, where Mary Jane comes on to Spider-Man after he saves the day, and even pulls up his mask a bit for a kiss in an alleyway outside the roller rink. (Wonder if Sam Raimi read this strip?) As Spider-Man swings away, MJ realizes that his kiss felt an awful lot like Peter's. Now, I'm not saying that Stan was planting the seed for MJ learning Spidey's secret at this point -- it would be more than five years before that happened in the comic strip (I'm pretty sure, anyway) -- but still, it's a fun moment to see.

We've nearly reached the end of Larry Lieber's run as the strip's daily artist, so I want to comment briefly on him as well. He came aboard immediately after John Romita's departure near the end of 1980, and I noted at the time that I hadn't even realized there was a transition for a few weeks' worth of strips! Lieber did an astounding impression of Romita, something I never imagined he was capable of based on his other artwork that I've seen. I've always known Lieber was a decent artist, but -- whether in the sixties, nineties, or any other vintage, he always had his own style. But on this strip, even up to this point, he has adapted to present a remarkable pastiche of John Romita's work. Aside from some odd illustrations of Spider-Man's eyes here and there, he keeps everyone absolutely one thousand percent on model and consistent with Romita's versions. I'm really impressed, and I like it a lot.

(By the time he returned to the strip in the nineties, Lieber eased off the Romita impression quite a bit, apparently more comfortable doing it in his own style. Honestly, I like his Romita impression better -- but that's only because I love Romita's art so much. There's nothing wrong with Lieber's personal style at all.)

Lieber will exit the dailies partway through this next story arc, turning those chores over to Fred Kida beginning in late August of '81 -- but he remains on Sundays for the remainder of the arc, finally giving those up as well in late October, just a couple weeks into the first storyline we'll look at next week. I'll say a bit about Kida at some point, perhaps next week since I don't believe he lasts all that long -- but for now I'll just note that he, too, sticks to a John Romita impression during his time on the strip. I have to imagine that was a specific directive from Stan, to keep the art consistent.

The next story arc opens with Peter paying a visit to Aunt May and her new "guard dog", a chihuahua named Dudley, then returning to his apartment where he learns that the building is "going co-op" (which I infer from dialogue to mean tenants are being forced to buy their apartments and join a homeowner's association, or move out). Unable to afford purchasing his place, Peter goes apartment hunting and meets a fellow named Lou Andrews. Peter and Lou strike up a fast friendship, even after Lou beats Peter to an apartment.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane has made the cast of an off-Broadway play, "The Sensuous Aardvark". On opening night, an assassin tries to kill an Arab oil minister in the audience, but Peter stops him. Somehow the show still goes on even after this international incident, but Peter misses it and earns MJ's ire when he leaves to sell photos of the minister to the Daily Bugle. This leads to the FBI learning Peter saw the assassination attempt -- and even though he didn't see the assassin's face, the FBI plants a story that he did, so as to lure the assassin out after him.

Normally I don't spoil twists, even in forty-year-old stories, but in this case I will reveal that Lou turns out to be the assassin, since it's about as obvious as can be from the very start. Lou captures Peter but leaves him alive while he goes to kill a visiting Russian cosmonaut. Peter escapes and tracks Lou down, fighting him briefly as Peter Parker before changing to Spider-Man to finish the job. Lou is arrested, and -- aside from the fact that MJ is still mad at him for missing her premiere -- all is well for Peter, who rents the assassin's apartment when he goes up the river.

It'll probably come as no surprise at this point that I like this one too. While the "revelation" about Lou being the assassin is telegraphed quite obviously (and may not even have been intended as much of a secret, given how casually it's eventually revealed), this remains the sort of "street-level" action I like to see Spider-Man handling. That said, there is a bit of a continuity glitch here. When he finds out about the co-op situation in his building, Peter calls the lawyer who helped him out during the "humanoid" adventure we covered last week -- the only problem is, that guy only worked with Spider-Man and never met Peter Parker! Yet here, he seems to know who Peter is when he gives him some advice. Chalk another one up to Stan's poor memory, I guess, though it's pretty egregious that in this case, he misremembered something that had just happened a few months earlier!


  1. Thanks for this review, i remember perfectly well when i read this adventure of our friendly spidey...i was hooked by the coming of a kind of " X men's villain" in the world of Spiderman..i've never read it since then...and i will carefully look for any " omnibus" where it 's featured.

    1. Good point about Rigby being an X-Men sort of character. He's even referred to as a "mutant" more than once in the dialogue! At this point the strip was still running with the idea that Spidey was pretty much the only super hero around, but it's not hard to imagine this arc guest-starring Professor X somehow if it had been published a decade later.